Explosions in the Sky have been taken for granted.
Seems weird, doesn't it? One of post-rock’s forebearers, the long-standing kings of the crescendo, have been taken for granted by the very same fans that once loudly sung their praises. It could be because of their Friday Night Lights-related success. It could be because fans have grown accustomed to the Texas quartet dropping a terrific album once every two or three years. It could be because some fans believe they've “grown out” of EitS and found newer, still-unearthed projects.
The reason for the sea change is irrelevant; the tide has rolled in once again.
Their sixth studio album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care storms to the shore right from the outset with “Last Known Surroundings”, a flawless eight-minute exercise in composition.
Waves of subtle fuzz and distortion ripple across a tribal-sounding sample before the lush reverb EitS is known for opens the song up. Before long, gorgeous guitar tones scatter back and forth between the tactful percussion and the warm reverb and the band has settled into a familiar groove. Once firmly entrenched in that groove, cymbals crash and riffs darken as the gentle pitter-patter of waves lapping on the shore gives way to the real power of the seas. The speed of the chord progressions picks up by the minute but the song never loses its sense of focus. The band never loses its way.
No sooner does the powerful track end than does the understated followup begin.
Where “Last Known Surroundings” juxtaposed the harsh with the mellow, “Human Qualities” is, for the most part, comfortable exploring the finer points of the latter. It seems there’s no big crescendo here, no crashing of the drums, no seismic riffs—just beauty in the simple. When the same chord progression starts echoing softly just three minutes into the song, leaving the low, hollow sounds of the bass drum quieting every second, the band is commanding full attention. When those same, soft chord progressions start back in, they give no hint to the violent explosion lurking just around the corner.
The gears change yet again on the serene “Be Comfortable, Creature”, as the mesmerizing tones tether together in what is the record’s most somber foray. While it’s the crescendos and the band’s ability to incorporate so many peaks and valleys into its music that garners the most acclaim, it’s songs like this that really speak to their ability.
To be able to tell a story of longing and despair through such reserved instrumentation—though "reserved" is not to be confused as "simple"—is nothing short of incredible. Explosions’ innate ability to make every note, every strike of the snare, every quiet roll a moving part of a great narrative is what sets them apart from every other band in the genre.
In no song is that more apparent than the triumphant closer, “Let Me Back In”. EitS establishes a taut rhythm to serve as the song’s base while layer upon layer is added. When the pace quickens several minutes in, quick-hitting progressions are intermittently used before the buildup fades back down to nothing more than a base level of percussion and gorgeous rhythms. When the kick drum becomes more prominent, as do the undercurrents. When the tones become bolder, so does the fuzz of the reverb. It all marries together in absolute grandeur, and when the sweeping riffs finally crest like waves on the shore, what remains are the subtle sounds of the surf being dragged out to sea.
And all that’s left is silence.